Sunday, July 5, 2015

Savings Challenge, Weeks 17-18: Saving at work

Before I tackle the two latest challenges from the Bankrate 52-week savings challenge, I'd like to report on the final results of the Week 15 challenge, which was to eat only local, seasonal produce. As I noted last Sunday, this challenge ended up being a bit complicated, because the week during which we ate local didn't run neatly from Sunday to Sunday. In fact, even after I shifted the timing of the local-produce week to start and end on Tuesday evening, we didn't synch up with it perfectly, because Brian ended up eating a banana on Tuesday. So while we certainly ate exclusively local produce for at least seven days, they weren't seven consecutive days.

Even if we didn't stick to the letter of the challenge, however, we certainly managed to adhere to the spirit of it. We ate, during the course of the week, the entire contents of the CSA box we picked up on Sunday, plus about three pints of blueberries from the local farmers' market, plus a wide variety of produce from our own garden. In addition to our new kasha salad recipe, we made:

  • A stir-fry using our home-grown snap peas, scallions, and garlic, plus some local organic mushrooms from the Whole Earth Center.
  • Skillet chicken and rhubarb with our own home-grown rhubarb, scallions, and oregano and garlic scapes from the CSA box, accompanied by a salad of CSA lettuce. 
  • Brian's classic rhubarb pie, for a party we attended that we enjoyed our home-grown rhubarb in both sweet and savory fashion.
  • An omelette of local organic mushrooms, with a salad of home-grown lettuce.
  • For the other potluck party we attended over the weekend, the cold sesame noodles from The Clueless Vegetarian, with home-grown scallions, local carrots from the farmers' market, and, in the dressing, one of our new walking onions (a gift from a fellow gardener who had more than she needed) that Brian dug up specially for the occasion.
So, what with the CSA box, our garden, and a few extras from the farmers' market, we managed to put together enough meals for not only a week's worth of dinners, but also sufficient leftovers for a week's worth of lunches...even if, as I say, the week wasn't exactly seven days in a row.

And that brings me quite neatly to the next Bankrate savings challenge:

Week 17: Take your lunch to work

The Bankrate reporter covering this challenge, Mark Hamrick, leads off his story with a pardonable boast (disguised as a "confession") about how he likes to cook, and how he always prepares his own lunch to take to work. Yet on the second page of the article, he posts his grocery list for the week, and it turns out that his "homemade" lunches actually consist of a salad plus a "frozen food entree," such as Amy's or Lean Cuisine, costing anywhere from $2 to $3.79. This, plus the salad veggies, works out to somewhere between $3 and $5 per day.

If you compare this to a cost of a restaurant meal, I guess it's pretty good, but Brian and I—as we learned from last year's Reverse SNAP Challenge—eat on a budget of about $7.66 a day for all our meals. For both of us. The cost of his "frugal" lunch, all by itself, would feed one of us for a whole day.

Hamrick notes that "some days," he can "save a couple of bucks or so more by eating leftovers (from a previous dinner) for lunch." But what Hamrick does once in a while as an extra cost-saving measure is pretty much our normal M.O., as I noted in this earlier Bankrate challenge about using up leftovers. So not only do Brian and I take our lunch to work nearly every day (or in my case, since I work from home, take myself to the lunch that's is waiting in the fridge), we also don't have to do any additional cooking or shopping for said lunch. All we have to do is dish out some leftovers into a microwaveable container and add a piece of fruit on the side. In the unusual event that we don't have any dinner leftovers, we usually go with a peanut-butter sandwich (remember those?) for Brian, and maybe a scrambled egg or a can of soup for me.

Week 18: Ride your bike to work

The folks at Bankrate apparently thought that while they were on the topic of saving money at work, they might as well discuss another way to save on the cost of getting to and from work. Reporter Claes Bell says that making the shift from driving to biking to work has been "a game changer" for him (or possibly her...I can't quite tell from the name), saving about $129 a month. However, that's because the switch to biking meant that he and his wife could downsize from two cars to one, saving on gas, insurance, and maintenance. Most of the savings came from eliminating the second car, not from driving fewer miles.

For me and Brian, since we were already a one-car family before Brian took up biking to work, the savings are a lot smaller. I calculated last year that Brian's bicycle commute probably saved us about $89 a year—less than the Bells saved in just one month. However, it would still be well worth doing even if the savings came to nothing at all, because (a) it's good exercise, enabling Brian to maintain his boyish figure—or more accurately, to acquire the boyish figure he never had as a boy—and (b) he finds riding his bike through the park a much, much less stressful start to the day than driving in New Jersey traffic.

So that's two more weekly challenges that are actually no challenge for us, because ha ha, we're doing them already. Admittedly, we're not saving nearly as much with the bicycle commute as Claes Bell, but then, we're doing a lot better with the brown-bag lunches than Mark Hamrick, so I guess it balances out.
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